Baucus Gets Ideas From Regional Business Officials

Source: Great Falls Tribune

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus announced another prominent CEO, this one from Boeing, is attending his Butte fall economic development conference during a Great Falls stop Wednesday.

The Montana Democrat asked for economic concerns from a crowd of 20 regional business leaders at the Great Falls airport and immediately received several, including some from a Canadian businessman with big plans for Great Falls.

Commenting via speaker phone from Quebec, Jean Paschini, CEO of ADF Group, which is building a large steel fabrication and assembly plant north of Great Falls, accepted Baucus’ invitation to the Butte summit conference and offered suggestions on what Montana needs to create more good paying jobs.

Paschini said his company likes Great Falls workers and the city’s location between different energy development projects in Canada and the U.S. He said the company received applications from hundreds of area residents for welding, fitting and assembly jobs, and will invest $50 million in area construction. They plan to hire between 1,000 to 1,500 workers for its Great Falls facility in the next 20 to 24 months.

The company would like to double that hiring and stay here 100 years, he said, but needs help in three areas to keep growing: more job training slots, better plane connections between Great Falls and eastern Canada and the U.S. and more train cars serving the area.

Businessman and Airport Authority member Brad Talcott said the airport is trying to improve service and lower air fares. Great Falls Airport Director John Faulkner said he’s concerned about federal budget cuts that could eliminate on-site air traffic control oversight at the airport between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. when two-thirds of the commercial flights arrive. That could reduce safety somewhat and discourage airlines from retaining or expanding flights, he said. U.S. Customs also could eliminate overnight checks, which would prevent evening charter flights by foreign businesses such as ADF, he said.

NeighborWorks President Sheila Rice said the lack of affordable housing for middle income workers could hamper development in Great Falls, as it has in the oil fields of North Dakota and eastern Montana. Former Mayor Randy Gray suggested the state find a way, such as additional Amtrak cars, to transport workers from places of high unemployment, such as Libby, Kalispell and Dillon, to areas of low unemployment, such as Sidney. He also suggested Montana and Canada cooperate on building an oil refinery.

Sandi Thares, owner of O’Haire Motor Inn and president of the Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association, suggested Baucus could help boost tourism by inviting movie producers to Montana to film a major movie. The state could help by retaining and improving tax credits for film production in Montana, she said

Baucus said he holds economic summits every three years. The next will be Sept. 16 and 17 in Butte.

Baucus told Great Falls and Helena officials Wednesday that Boeing CEO Jim McNerney will take part in this year’s conference. Baucus noted that Boeing bought Summit Aviation of Helena 10 years and expanded it to 200 workers.

Earlier in the week, Baucus announced that ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance and CEO Safra Catz of software giant Oracle will speak at the conference.

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